The National Association of Manufacturers is seriously considering urging the Bush administration to develop a national manufacturing policy as a way to protect what it sees as a beleaguered industrial base.
An influential NAM committee urged the group Dec. 11 to take that step, which would go beyond previous NAM efforts and would seem to indicate support for a stepped-up focus on manufacturing issues in Washington.
But whether that actually happens remains to be seen. In part, that's because the manufacturing policy that NAM is considering is itself a compromise designed to sidestep very thorny debates within NAM about steel tariffs, according to one participant at the meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity. Still, the source said there is significant support for some sort of manufacturing policy statement.
The push could help some plastic industry sectors, such as mold makers and film and bag companies that have complained about the impact of the recession and globalization on their businesses. A group of mold and tool and die shops, for example, formed a coalition a few months ago to push what it calls a fair trade agenda.
NAM's committee for international economic policy voted Dec. 11 to ``ask the administration to focus on manufacturing and look at problems we're facing,'' said NAM spokesman Scot Montrey. The group voted 58-21 in favor of the policy. NAM's board still needs to vote on the issue, Montrey said.
Montrey said manufacturers have lost 2 million jobs and are hurt by the high value of the U.S. dollar.
``We're saying manufacturing is really hurting,'' Montrey said. ``We led the economy into recession. We're dragging our feet coming out of it.''
The policy debate began as an effort to look at the Bush administration's steel tariff, but Montrey said the resolution broadened to look at manufacturing conditions overall. The Dec. 11 resolution left unresolved what overall steps could be taken, but Montrey said NAM would not endorse protectionist trade language.
The policy does include language asking the administration to consider the potentially negative impact of the steel tariffs on steel-consuming industries, not just any positive impact on steel producers. An amendment asking the Bush administration to consider both consumers and producers when it reviews the tariffs next year was controversial, but eventually passed.
The Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. voted against the resolution, but it does support the overall goal of examining manufacturing policy, said Lori Anderson, SPI's senior director of economic and international trade affairs. SPI, which opposed the steel tariffs, would have preferred that the resolution stay limited to steel and that it would have been clearer in NAM's position on the tariffs, she said. Still, SPI is working with NAM on larger manufacturing issues, she said.
``There's a general sense among U.S. manufacturing of concern about competitiveness in light of many global conditions facing industry,'' she said.
Illinois Tool Works Inc. voted against the resolution, although it too is supportive of the larger goals of looking at the impact of steel tariffs and having the Bush administration examine the state of manufacturing, said Mike Lynch, public affairs manager of the Glenview, Ill.-based plastics processor and diversified manufacturer.
Lynch said he objected to specific language on steel tariffs that strayed from earlier language the policy committee agreed to.